The Morgan Dollar: The Amazing History Behind This Rare Coin

The Morgan Dollar: The Amazing History Behind This Rare Coin

Its age, rarity, and detailed design all make it highly desirable, despite most of them being well over 100 years old.
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Over the years, the US has had many different coins to represent the value of a dollar. The Morgan dollar is one of these many coins, and it was produced from 1878 to 1921. It was a very popular design in its day, and it is still very popular among coin collectors. Its age, rarity, and detailed design all make it highly desirable, despite most of them being well over 100 years old.

In this article, we’ll talk about the design and history of the Morgan dollar, as well as things coin collectors should know when buying and selling them today. 

Morgan Dollar Design

George Morgan, the Chief Engraver of the US Mint, designed the Morgan dollar in 1876. He was a very prolific coin designer, and this was one of many designs of his that the US Mint struck over the years. The front of the coin features a detailed profile of Lady Liberty. Around the top edge of the coin is the motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’, and around the bottom edge of the coin is a pattern of six-pointed stars, as well as numerals representing the year the dollar was struck. 

On the back of the coin is a bald eagle, perched on a branch with its wings outstretched as if preparing to fly. A wreath surrounds the eagle. The top edge of the coin reads “United States of America”, with the phrase “In God We Trust” underneath. The bottom edge of the coin reads “One Dollar”. Some Morgan dollars have mint marks indicating where they were made. If the dollar does not have a mint mark, it was cast in Philadelphia, which was the original US mint. Four other mints cast Morgan dollars, and they each have their own symbol - S (San Francisco), D (Denver), CC (Carson City), or O (New Orleans). 

The History Of The Morgan Dollar

The Morgan Dollar replaced the Seated Liberty dollar, which had many of the same visual themes but was not nearly as detailed. Prior to 1873, the US had been in a period of free silver coinage, which essentially required mints to strike an unlimited amount of silver coins each year to meet demand. This caused inflation, increasing prices and decreasing the value of silver dollars. The Coinage Act of 1873 ended this practice, and in 1878, Congress passed the Bland-Allison Act, which authorized the minting of the Morgan dollar. This piece of legislation also limited the number of silver coins the US mint could produce each year, which kept inflation in check. 

Production of the Morgan dollar began at the Philadelphia Mint on March 11th of 1878. In the months following, the Philadelphia Mint stopped the production of all other coins and focused just on the Morgan dollar in order to meet their assigned quota from the government. They also sent the die for the Morgan dollar to the San Francisco and Carson City mints later in 1878. The New Orleans mint began making Morgan dollars in 1879. 

In 1890, the US government passed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. This increased the total amount of silver the Treasury purchased every month. However, this legislation was repealed in 1893 due to an economic downturn. Between 1898 and 1904, the Mint coined the remaining bullions from the Sherman Silver Purchase Act into Morgan dollars. They then stopped making silver dollars until 1921. A piece of 1918 legislation authorized production of silver dollars again, and the mints resumed making the Morgan dollar throughout 1921. This was also the first time that the Denver mint made the Morgan dollar. However, the US government replaced the Morgan dollar with the Peace dollar soon thereafter, and the Morgan dollar was discontinued. 

In the 1960s, the US Mint found bags of uncirculated Morgan dollars in the Philadelphia and Carson City mints. The Morgan dollars from the Philadelphia mint were sold at their face value of $1, even though they were much more valuable at the time. The public was very excited about these coins, and a huge number of people started buying them as investments. The mint sold the Carson City Morgan dollars through mail bids in the 1970s. Many of the Morgan dollars that collectors buy, sell, and trade today are from these batches of uncirculated coins. 

The Morgan dollar design has also been used on commemorative coins in recent years. In 2006, the reverse design of the Morgan dollar was used on a coin to celebrate the history of the Old Mint in San Francisco. In fall of 2020, the House approved a special centennial edition re-minting of the Morgan and Peace dollars for 2021. However, the Senate has not yet approved it. 

What Are Morgan Dollars Worth Now? 

Morgan dollars range in value these days, depending on their current condition, as well as when and where they were originally made. They can range anywhere from $10 to upwards of $100. Here are some of the factors that determine how much a Morgan dollar is worth today. 

  • Original release date. In general, the older Morgan dollars are worth the most nowadays because they are rarer. This is especially true for older Morgan dollars that are in good condition. The oldest Morgan dollar coins, issued in 1878 and 1879, are now over 140 years old, so they could be worth several thousand dollars today. 
  • Mint location. The Morgan dollars were produced at five different mints over the course of their production. Depending on the year, certain mints produced more Morgan dollars than others. A Morgan dollar with a rare combination of mint location and year issued could be very valuable. For example, Morgan dollars from the Carson City location tend to come with a high price tag. One of the most valuable Morgan dollars is the 1901 Philadelphia version, because only 813 of them were minted there that year. 
  • Condition. The condition of your Morgan dollar plays a huge factor in how much it is worth. Because Morgan dollars are so old, it is very difficult to find one in good condition. However, factors like the sharpness of the features, scratches, color changes, and other imperfections will lower the overall value of the coin. 
  • Production errors. While a coin in poor condition will have a lower value, a coin with a production error will actually be worth more. This is because production errors were very rare. One of the most well known production errors is the double die, where the design essentially has a shadow because the dies weren’t lined up correctly during the initial production. There are a few double die Morgan dollars out there, and they are very valuable. 

Morgan dollars will likely get more valuable as time goes on, given that they are no longer in production. If you have Morgan dollars in your collection, keep them stored safely and make sure to keep them in good condition. Over time, their value could go up dramatically. The environment is key here, as both temperature changes and humidity could damage the coins over time if you’re not careful. 

Where To Buy A Morgan Dollar

Morgan dollars are a great addition to any coin collection. One of the best ways to buy them is through a dealer. There are plenty of respected international coin dealers to choose from, but you will need to make sure they are qualified. Membership in organizations like the Professional Nuismatics Guild are a great indicator that the dealer is reputable. Talk to the dealer directly to see if they have any Morgan dollars available, and if so, what their condition, year, and mint mark are. 

The grade of the coin is an important metric to check when purchasing a Morgan dollar. Coins are graded using the Sheldon grading scale, which ranges from one to 70. A coin with a score of 70 is mint state with no imperfections even at magnification. Coins scoring between 60 and 69 are also mint state, but may have slight flaws or imperfections. Coins below 60 will have more visible imperfections and wear. 

Grades are a key factor to consider when buying Morgan dollars, because they can dramatically affect a coin’s value. In general, Morgan dollars with a grade of 60 or higher have proven to be the best investments over time. Because there were many Morgan dollars bought directly from the Treasury vaults in the 1960s and ‘70s, there are plenty on the market still in good condition that have never been circulated. Some rarer Morgan dollars can still be very valuable with a grade between 50 and 60, particularly those from the Carson City mint or those from the 1870s. 

Morgan dollars have a very rich history. They are one of the most iconic coins the US has ever produced, and their rich detail makes them highly sought after by collectors. Not only are they stunning coins, but they also have the potential for huge growth in the future. 

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